The West must offer the Global South a new deal


An incongruous spectacle unfolded between Kyiv and Moscow this weekend. The Global South suddenly showed up in Europe, offering to make peace amid the continent’s worst conflagration since World War II.

I’m talking about a mission of leaders from seven African countries captained by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. They first visited Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, then his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. The delegation’s stated goal was to mediate between the mortal enemies. Ramaphosa did his best to sound optimistic. But Zelenskiy and Putin left little doubt that these African peace plans, for now, stand a snowball’s chance in the blast of a Russian Kinzhal missile.

Ramaphosa is one of several leaders in the Global South who raise eyebrows in Kyiv and the West. His country has so far stayed conspicuously neutral in the Russo-Ukrainian “conflict,” as Ramaphosa insists on calling it to Zelenskiy’s chagrin – the Ukrainian president naturally wants to call the Russian invasion what it is, an unprovoked war of aggression. South Africa abstained from two United Nations resolutions last year to condemn the Russian attack. In the first, 35 countries opted out, and 58 did in the second. In total, these nations represent more than half of humanity.

South Africa has even been accused of secretly supplying Putin with weapons. It denies this, but a bipartisan group of American legislators has now asked the White House to punish the country by moving a big trade conference to another place in Africa.

Let’s expand that specific dilemma being considered in the White House to a general question: How should the “West” deal with the “South” in the wider geopolitical struggles of our time? After all, the West will need the rest as it confronts not only Russia but maybe also China.

Western countries could use their economic power to coerce or cajole the South to be on their side and punish the South’s countries when they don’t fall into line. Or they could woo the bloc. That would mean listening to the South’s concerns – and addressing them.

One way of explaining the South’s diligent impartiality in the struggle between Ukraine and Russia, and also in the standoff between the U.S. and China, is old-fashioned realism. As the world becomes multipolar, it’s far from clear who will wield power in the future. So the best strategy for many countries is to hedge. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for example, triangulates between Washington, Moscow and Beijing as if he’d been tutored by the eminence grise of American realism, Henry Kissinger. But this hedging mentality also means the South’s countries could be open to persuasion.

The bigger obstacle is the widespread cynicism in the Global South about Western invocations of the “rules-based order” to be defended in Ukraine. Many countries in the Southern Hemisphere weren’t at the table when those rules were made. The United Nations and its Security Council were designed largely by and around the last World War’s victors, at a time when those powers still subsumed much of Africa and Asia in their own empires.

Viewed from the South, moreover, the great powers seem to care about their own rules only when it’s convenient. If the U.S., U.K., France, China or Russia don’t like a resolution in the U.N. Security Council, they veto it. The council’s 10 rotating members can’t do that – and only two or three of those can be African anyhow.

In this rigged system, according to Tim Murithi, a South African scholar, the Western powers still make war whenever they want to – as in Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya, say. And they usually don’t care about the consequences as long as those affect only the Global South. The Western campaigns against the aforesaid three countries, for example, spawned Islamist terrorist movements that today torment countries from Chad, Mali and Niger to Mozambique, Somalia and Tanzania.

The list of Western hypocrisies is long. Why, people in the South wonder, should they stand up for the rules-based order when the U.S. refuses to ratify the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea? Why should they heed the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant against Putin if America doesn’t recognize that tribunal? Why should they embargo arms to Russia if Washington gave Saudi Arabia weapons that were used in the brutal war in Yemen?

These arguments frustrate Western leaders because they’re not exactly comparable to the Russian attack against Ukraine. Maybe North Americans and Europeans do show more empathy for the Ukrainian refugees and victims than, say, for the Sudanese or Rohingya – or for the Tutsi during Rwanda’s genocide in 1994. But that suffering stems from intranational atrocities. Putin, by contrast, wants to conquer a neighboring country that all nations of the Global South also recognize as sovereign. Moreover, he has repeatedly threatened the use of nuclear weapons. If he gets away with this, no country – west, east, south or north – will ever be safe again.

The problem is that Western leaders have no credibility. As India’s top diplomat, S. Jaishankar, put it in a phrase that’s gone viral, the West hews to a “mindset that Europe’s problems are the world’s problems, but the world’s problems are not Europe’s problems.” The West must therefore offer the South a new deal.

One part of it should be a reform of the U.N. The five permanent members of the Security Council should give up their vetoes. And it hardly seems right that two medium-sized European countries still have permanent seats when population giants such as Indonesia or India don’t.

Another aspect of the offer goes in the direction French President Emmanuel Macron has in mind. This week he’s hosting a Summit for a New Global Financing Pact that could lead to remaking development banks and capital markets so they work better for poor countries in the Global South.

The most obvious element of the new global deal has to do with climate change. Western countries, led by the U.S., bear a disproportionate historical responsibility for the greenhouse gasses causing the earth to heat up. But the Global South is bearing an outsize share of the consequences, from droughts and famines to floods and migrations. So rich Western countries must finally get serious about funding adaptation in the South. They should also make their own economies green and clean – as hard as that will be, economically and politically – and simultaneously export their knowhow to the South.

Nobody’s suggesting a series of crude quid pro quos, in which countries “sell” support for Ukraine in return for solar panels, debt forgiveness or commercial favors. Instead, the West must admit that much about today’s world politics is unfair and that the South must be heard and included. The South, in turn, must recognize that Ukraine is defending itself against an imperialism as inhumane as that which once enslaved so much of Africa, Asia and South America.

Let the West stop lecturing and start listening to the South. And let the South swing behind Kyiv and against Moscow. Ramaphosa could make a great start by simply calling the Russian invasion a war of aggression and condemning it at the U.N.

Andreas Kluth is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering European politics. A former editor in chief of Handelsblatt Global and a writer for the Economist, he is author of “Hannibal and Me.”

(This opinion does not necessarily reflect the views of News India Times/Parikh Worldwide Media)



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